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African countries, in the wake of independence, were faced with significant capacity constraints that had impeded agricultural development and sustainable food production - which was more severe in the particular case of semi-arid areas. As a result, frequent droughts and famine were common in the region with worse cases encountered during the 1970s.

In response to the recurrent droughts, the virtual lack of appropriate and economically feasible technologies to improve agricultural production in semi-arid agro-ecosystems and the food security crisis in 1970s, the Heads of African States and Government of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) established SAFGRAD in 1977 (based on Resolution 505 XXIX adopted by the Council of Ministers).

Such a political commitment to establish SAFGRAD was to be accorded with the commitment of donors particularly the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to embark on an agreement with OAU to build research and technology transfer capacities of 27 benefiting countries in Sub Saharan Africa. Through SAFGRAD, the USAID has been a key donor that financed agricultural research and capacity building at regional level that spanned for over 15 years.

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